A couple weeks back, I ran into someone who attended my class regularly in the past but discontinued coming after moving to a new apartment. She told me how much she missed the practice we were doing, that she still goes to yoga classes but they are not the same. She felt compelled to admit to me that there is often injurious things happening in these classes and she has sometimes hurt herself inadvertently. She quickly added, ".....but I really like the challenge." The statement struck me because it implied that a simple and more deliberate practice is somehow not a challenge. Actually, being consistently careful and attentive with my breath and body is no small task.
Articulating the sort of challenge that a therapeutic orientation presents can be subtle and elusive. Recently, I found an interesting way to express it in, of all places, a documentary film on "base jumping." For those who may not be familiar with the extreme sport of base jumping, basically, you strap a parachute to your back and jump off of a cliff or bridge or building and pull the chord just in time to keep yourself from dying a terrible death.
The statistics involved in this activity are startling. Anyone who has base jumped regularly for any period of time knows someone who has died from it. Even if you execute your jump with technical perfection, a gust of wind can blow and your done.
The documentary featured a woman who had been jumping for several years and was faced with a serious dilemma. She knows that if she continues to jump, she will likely die from it and, yet, she can not imagine life without jumping. She described how overcoming the rush of fear that comes just before she jumps was empowering and left her with a feeling she could not get anywhere else. Her family was beside themselves, pleading for her to stop.
What got me thinking was that while she had the courage to overcome the immediate and arbitrary challenge of jumping off a cliff, she seemed utterly afraid of just living out her life. She took pleasure in almost killing herself but was disenchanted with the miracle of simply being alive.
Living out a long life in an honorable way, without regrets, and with some modicum of health and joy is perhaps the greatest challenge we face. Such an accomplishment rarely gets much credit, save for obituaries.